Out Of The Ashes


Some l’chaims. A few speeches. A little dancing.

The ceremony for the opening of an afternoon drop-in center for Russian Jews yesterday at the Young Israel of Brighton Beach seemed ordinary.

Only one thing was extraordinary. Chamah, the independent cultural and educational organization that is sponsoring the new Russian Club, suffered a fire that destroyed its international headquarters in Lower Manhattan barely two months ago.

The 10-hour blaze at 78 Pearl St., which was started by an electrical short circuit and did about $100,000 in damage, wiped out Chamah’s 4,000-square-foot office space and a “priceless library,” including irreplaceable underground literature from the former Soviet Union, says Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, the organization’s Kkarkov-born president.

“It slowed down our fund-raising effort,” says Rabbi Zaltzman, speaking in a Midtown office donated by the New York Legal Assistance Group.

Two days after the fire, Chamah held its annual dinner, drawing a capacity crowd to the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

The future of Chamah’s offices on Pearl Street, a rent-free grant from realtor-philanthropist Robert Arnow, is uncertain.

With a mailing list of magazine subscribers and financial supporters retrieved from a computer that escaped destruction, and the help of philanthropists — the rabbi mentions Jonathan Leader, Mitchell Beneroff and Oliver Stanton — Chamah is slowly rebuilding. It’s kept its old phone number and Web site — (212) 943-9690; www.chamah.org — and has replaced some of its destroyed property.

The fire did not interfere with plans to open the Brighton Beach club.

“The office is destroyed,” Rabbi Zaltzman says. “Chamah is not.”